By the fall of 1967, it was becoming increasingly apparent that our media world was meshing with reality in a very ostentatious way, so that fictions were importing themselves directly into our collective consciousness. The whole complex of mind and imagination was dissolving into a supersonic roller coaster ride through the mirrored, Andy Warhol-style funhouse of fame. Psychedelic wasn’t just drug induced, it was right there on the tube.
While walking down G Street past George Washington University’s Institute for Sino-Soviet Studies, (which we all knew was a CIA front) the building dressed in pinkish colonial brick and fresh white fret-work, I got to thinking about a show I’d seen the night before on a friend’s 12” portable B&W TV—a bent coat hanger for an antenna.
It was the Les Crane Show, formatted with Les, the host, holding an audience of mean-spirited people in thrall, an audience picked out to taunt the guest who was usually some brand of kook—a UFO space cadet, or some wall-eyed nutritionist with a cure-all diet of eating only buckwheat groats. The guests were often willing dupes, ravenous for their own personal slice of the fame pie. Now that’s entertainment! It was the onset of media nation, our gullets wide open.
The stage was set up like a coliseum so the audience hovered over Crane and his guest, and it was the coliseum where the Emperor Crane held a microphone mounted on a gunstock which he could point at the audience for responses… It was a classic set-up for a freak show. Why was I watching what promised to be the next headline on the supermarket tabloid? This night he had on The Maharishi, the famous Beatles’ guru, wearing a garland of marigolds over his flowing hair and beard. The long white robe might well have had a target on it; a look ripe for a Les Crane ambush. Crane was unable to locate even the thinnest crack to wedge open for the audience’s hunger to feel tribal superiority and they were overwhelmed by the guru’s honest accounting of the benefits of meditation. His unmitigated laugh… This wasn’t a religion, this was the science of mind. Everyone has a mind and everyone has a longing to connect to an inner life.
The Maharishi said, “Thought is like a bubble rising from the pond of the mind, growing larger as it reaches the surface of consciousness where it can burst forth into action.”
“Who among us,” the guru continued, “hasn’t dreamed up an idea? Who plans out the itinerary for a weekend away? The imagination. Meditation is like calisthenics for the mind and it’s round the clock movie show. Meditation is the drawing back the bow, so we may hit the target at which we are aiming.”
But what really got me was the cool, unflappable poise of the guru. Crane couldn’t touch him. Try as he might, Crane was met with such joyous, heartfelt laughter, it seemed he and…the whole audience, was ready to sign up. Crane too (which, it turns out, he did). You seldom, maybe never, have you heard such bubbling and genuine mirth.
I’d concluded that some kind of continuum between an idea and actualizing that idea in the phenomenal world, could fold into the job of art making. Here were some new tools to add to the sometimes alienating, sometimes terrifying practice of being an artist. And, right there on G Street was the Guru’s Ashram. I walked in and signed up— bashert as my Grandmother would say—meant to be. I was initiated and began my twice daily meditation routine.
So, the following summer when I had been trying to get the hang of working with metal, I apprenticed myself to an architectural sculptor, a journeyman welder. I was showing bit of promise, so my teacher presented me with a 30” x 40” sheet of copper, a ruined engraving plate thick as a pencil, intrinsically very valuable as scrap, “Here, see what you can do with this.”
Could I do justice to the teacher’s confidence in me? I was angsty and barely out of adolescence. I went into his Japanese-inspired garden of pea gravel and sculptures all set about with portulaca to sit in my favorite spot. There was a black butterfly chair, as it happened, a perfect place to do meditation, to calm myself. I could see the pinky-orange rectangle floating in warm dark space behind my eyes, come apart into a ribbon of copper, twisted and made itself into a Möbius strip. Everyone has done this in school, take a strip of paper, give it a half twist and you have an object that has one edge and one surface, at once a complex form and intrinsically simple. I formed the copper into what I’d seen in my mind. That piece marked a kind of graduation into the true creative life. Since that time, mediation has been with me, a most important tool in my kit for accessing the mysteries of imagination. Over the years, I gained increasing familiarity with the meditative state of mind which felt like a visit to an important relative… A relative who might just hold my inheritance—better show respect…actualizing what the mind offers, evermore an infinite resource for the work I’m meant to do. Bashert, as they say.